Posts about Adventure travel

A History Lesson

Posted by: Gretchen A. Brown Updated: November 23, 2014 - 5:14 AM

Sometimes the historical treasures of Athens can be found - quite literally - in people’s basements.

During a regular history class with my professor, we were taken on a tour around Athens to see artifacts from antiquity. Some were out in the open and easy to see- like Hadrian’s arch and the Acropolis. You couldn’t miss them even if you tried.

Then my professor took us into the middle of downtown Athens. It’s a bustling, modern European city. I looked out for some kind of ancient column but couldn’t see anything. Just when I had hoped he was taking us on a surprise shopping trip of some sort, he took a sharp left into a deserted sort of shopping mall. No stores were open; all looked like they had been closed for months if not years. He spoke with a guard in Greek, and led us down some cement stairs into the basement of this deserted place.

What I learned was that here, in the most unlikely of places, was one of the largest remaining pieces of the original city wall of Athens. This wall dates back to at least 400 BC. It’s this crazy, cool historical artifact, and it’s sitting underneath a deserted shopping center.

The city of Athens in antiquity was eventually built over, because it was easier to use existing building foundations than to create new ones. These buildings were then built over. Then, these buildings were built over. What happens, then, is that a city of layers is created. The ancient artifacts, the stuff of the 5th, 6th centuries BC is found at a much lower level than the modern city. According to my professor, an archaeologist, several houses here have visible ruins in their basements that one can request in writing to visit if they desire to.

But this is a city of history. You don’t have to look in people’s basements to see some; it is ubiquitous. Every day while walking to class, I can look up and see the Parthenon. And in modern history, my school here is next to the stadium where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896.

Yet, some sites we visit have little to no remains. Just this week, we visited the Pnyx for history class. For those unfamiliar, it is quite literally the seat of democracy; it is here that Athenians first gathered to vote in a direct democracy for different issues. It’s on top of a hill, with a fantastic view of Athens and the Acropolis. All that remains is a stone elevated platform where the speaker stood, as well as a stone retaining wall. Other than that, one can only imagine the scene that must’ve happened, with over 8,000 citizens sitting right here voting over 2500 years ago.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned academically so far on this trip, it’s that much of history (and archeology) is visualization. The Athenians themselves who lived in these places so many years ago are the true cool part about any historical artifact. The buildings that remain? Simply an aid in imagining how these people once lived.

Visiting England

Posted by: Maddie Salas Updated: November 1, 2014 - 1:45 PM
My team and I traveled to a one week conference in Bristol, England, and let me tell you, overnight travel is nuts. For those of you who aren't familiar with the geography of the UK, West Kilbride (my Scotland home) is in south western Scotland, Bristol is in south western England, and London (our transfer station) is south eastern England. Not the best set up for a road trip on public buses with a group of twenty. Our bus ride started out rocky when we all had to split up, because thepassengers who boarded before us all thought they could snag their own row. We settled into the empty seats, and I got the front row on the top level. The whole driving on the other side of the road already made me confused, but man, when you're an extra story high, it seems like you will tip over every time you turn, or you'll run into the buildings passing by. It was quite the ride. The next problem we ran into: day light savings. Evidently, the bus company did not think it was important to carefully schedule our agenda, because they forgot about falling one hour back. Because our bus couldn't take up space at a bus station, or arrive an hour early, we stopped at a truck stop for an hour. My poor, tired, bus riding logic let me get a fast food hamburger at 2am (mind you, it felt like 3am). My breath and stomach were not happy. Bristol made the fifteen hour travel (and even the hamburger) worth it, though. Bristol is very artsy and creative, so it reminded me of Minneapolis' funky vibe. The people are pretty friendly and talkative, so I met a lot of random people this week that I ended up getting to know quite well. My team is on the bus to Cambridge now, and it's only a five hour bus ride. The wifi on public transportation is kind of sketchy, but at least it's free. We'll be in Cambridge for one week, and then we go back to Scotland! My next post will have more detail about Bristol and Cambridge. Cheers!

First Impressions

Posted by: Gretchen A. Brown Updated: November 1, 2014 - 9:21 AM

“You’ll love it there. The Greeks are so nice.”

A friend who had just left Athens told me this before my arrival in Greece. I was skeptical at first.

My first interaction with a Greek person happened as soon as I had gotten off of the connecting train from the airport into town. My suitcase is big (I’m abroad for four months, after all), but I normally have no problem navigating it through a European city.

This time was no different. Upon leaving a train station, there are sometimes small gates you need to pass through in order to exit. These gates are small and not meant to fit a suitcase. I usually try to fit my suitcase through, and then have to pause and turn it to the side so I can lift it through the gates.

However, right as my suitcase was caught in the gate, I paused to lift it up when I noticed someone behind me. At these moments in time I usually go into anti-pickpocket mode. This time it wasn’t necessary. The man behind me had seen that my luggage didn’t fit, so he gestured to my suitcase, and helped me lift it through the gate.

After he had gotten through the gate, he dropped my luggage and smiled, while I said thank you, and he walked away. It was such a casual but kind thing for a stranger to do. Although I could’ve lifted the suitcase myself, the gesture was such a nice one.

It seems like nothing big, to have a stranger help you with your suitcase. But I’ve been traveling for over two months now, and it’s something that doesn’t happen often. People have busy lives, and not enough time to stop to help a stranger.

I have now been in Athens for a few days, and I’ve noticed that in general, most Athenians seem to have this same kind disposition. When you walk down the street or enter a store, people smile at you. That hasn’t been the case in a lot of other European cities in my experience. Here, bakeries will give you free pastries with your coffee. Restaurants will give you wine on the house. This is because they value their customers and want you to keep coming back.

One other time in particular when I was exploring my new neighborhood here with a few of my classmates, trying to find the nearest school supply store, we ended up having to ask several people for directions along the way. Each time the person was sincere and kind, pointing us in the right direction. In contrast, in Rome we had some bad experiences asking the locals for directions.

This isn’t to say that the people of Rome or any other urban European city are mean. It’s simply to say that my first impression of the Greeks is that they are very kind people. In a few weeks, I may have a very different impression of Athenians and the city. Recognizing these first impressions, and every other impression a city leaves on you throughout your time there, is one of the most important things about travel for me. The great thing is, I have six weeks left here to gather even more impressions of Athens.

You Betcha!

Posted by: Maddie Salas Updated: November 1, 2014 - 1:51 PM
Until my travels to Scotland, I never realized how big the USA is. Minnesota is roughly 2.5 times as big as Scotland, and about just as big as the United Kingdom. It's strange to think that a few hours of driving at home gets me to Duluth, but here just 90 minutes gets me from Glasgow to the border with England! It's also interesting to me that most people here seem to know where a lot of the states are. If I just say, "Minnesota," when someone asks where I'm from, he/she generally says, "Oh! Okay, cool!" Maybe they're just being nice, or pretending like they know where it is. A few people I met made some kind of comment about Minnesota being close to Canada (surprise, we boarder each other!), but it still means something that they know Minnesota is in the States, because I don't know all of the different sections of every other country. Also, big news for anyone in denial (like my previous self): we have accents. People notice it. I've actually been mistaken for Canadian a couple times, and now some of my friends here call me an "Honorary Canadian." I actually can't complain, because it seems like a lot of citizens here tend to prefer Canadians. These are just a few of my thoughts since moving here. Hopefully I can post more soon! Wifi is hard to come by, and I am traveling with my class to England for the next two weeks. Expect some English tea reviews upon my return!

You Betcha!

Posted by: Maddie Salas Updated: November 1, 2014 - 1:52 PM
Until my travels to Scotland, I never realized how big the USA is. Minnesota is roughly 2.5 times as big as Scotland, and about just as big as the United Kingdom. It's strange to think that a few hours of driving at home gets me to Duluth, but here just 90 minutes gets me from Glasgow to the border with England! It's also interesting to me that most people here seem to know where a lot of the states are. If I just say, "Minnesota," when someone asks where I'm from, he/she generally says, "Oh! Okay, cool!" Maybe they're just being nice, or pretending like they know where it is. A few people I met made some kind of comment about Minnesota being close to Canada (surprise, we boarder each other!), but it still means something that they know Minnesota is in the States, because I don't know all of the different sections of every other country. Also, big news for anyone in denial (like my previous self): we have accents. People notice it. I've actually been mistaken for Canadian a couple times, and now some of my friends here call me an "Honorary Canadian." I actually can't complain, because it seems like a lot of citizens here tend to prefer Canadians. These are just a few of my thoughts since moving here. Hopefully I can post more soon! Wifi is hard to come by, and I am traveling with my class to England for the next two weeks. Expect some English tea reviews upon my return!

Always Take the Chance

Posted by: Ben Palmer Updated: October 19, 2014 - 4:38 AM

Last weekend I, along with some friends, took the train to Berchtesgaden, Germany. When the trip was being organized I was not fully committed, thinking I would spend the weekend in Vienna. My friends driving the effort mainly wanted to go to see sites where the show Band of Brothers was filmed, not something I was particularly driven to pursue. However I eventually agreed thinking at the very least I would have a good weekend in a small Bavarian town. 

I do not think I have ever underestimated a trip as much as I did this one. On sunday we visited Königssee, the deepest lake in Germany. A dense morning fog shrouded the lake in mystery, made only more eerie by the music coming from tourist boats plying the misty waters. Advised by a local friend of ours to take the path where there is "danger of life", we hiked along the shore through the fog to a waterfall. The alpine lagoon and water-worn rocks created by the waterfall provided ample fun to climb and stick toes into the frigid water. After a while, wary of the time needed to catch our bus, I dunked myself in the lagoon because I wanted to get all the way in. I had not noticed however, that some of my friends headed down another path to get to the shore of the lake itself. After getting my shoes back on, I ran to catch up, emerging from the forest onto a wonderful rocky beach. The fog had burned off entirely by this point and the lake was bathed in morning sunshine. One friend had jumped in the lake proper (not just the lagoon). Feeling one-upped, and that my hearty Minnesotan blood was threatened, I wanted to jump in too so that I could also claim swimming in the deepest lake in Germany. Unfortunately we had a bus to catch and I recognized that we had a bit of hike to get back. However I was already regretting I did not go in the lake as well, and when my friends were slow to get going down the path, I went for it. I ran straight in and dove into the rapidly deepening water. Not nearly as cold as I had expected it to be, I had an enormous rush of adrenaline and relief that I did not pass up the opportunity at the cost of punctuality. A huge smile on my face and still riding the rush, I got my shoes and jacket on and caught up with the group. 

As it turns out we did not miss the bus, or really come that close. Even if we had, there will always be another bus, train or plane, and when there is not you still figure it out. No matter what unexpected adventures happen, you'll have the story. If that had been "that time we got stranded in Berchtesgaden", then that would have been a memory we could have all shared. It is never worth sacrificing the important moments, like swimming in the Königssee, for your preplanned itinerary. After all, those are the experiences that are the purpose of travel. Not punctuality or a schedule. If you can already feel yourself regretting something, stop what you're doing, go back and fix it right then and there. There will never be an easier time to do so. Always take the chance, always jump in. 

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